Making "Comics as Scholarship"

A Reflection on the Process behind Digital Humanities Quarterly (9)4

Anastasia Salter, Roger Whitson, Jason Helms


Most scholarly works published in digital forms reprise the written essay: They may be unconstrained by publisher's desires for page limits, but otherwise they are often so bound to the pseudo-printed form as to be published online as PDF documents, paginated and static. Despite the promise of many disruptive technologies for collaboration, annotation, open peer review, and the integration of multimedia, relatively few literature and humanities journals operate with these mechanisms. In December 2015, the Digital Humanities Quarterly issue 9.4, "Comics as Scholarship" released. Edited by Roger Whitson and Anastasia Salter, the issue included six pieces in a range of comic formats, each reflecting in its own way on the very nature of comics as a scholarly practice. The journey to make the issue started many years before, in an informally-gathered THATCamp (a digital humanities "unconference," or informal networking and collaboration-focused gathering) session of comics enthusiasts. This piece is a documentation of what happened between those two moments, told by the editors and contributor Jason Helms.

Throughout this hypertext, we (as color-coded above and throughout) will share our recollections and insights into the process of crafting and editing this unusual project, which involved adapting the methods of a typically traditional manuscript-focused digital humanities journal to suit more experimental scholarly forms while still providing peer-reviewed rigor. We have tried to capture both the macro editing issues and the micro authorial issues. We end with a series of individual reflections on the entire process and advice for the future. Our goal is to make it easier for others to follow suit, and reveal both the challenges and opportunities of this type of project.

A note on navigation: This webtext is most easily navigated by using keyboard arrows. Major sections are divided by row (scrolling up/down), and subsections are divided by column (scrolling left/right).

Our Goals

As a group of interdisciplinary scholars (focused on comics, games, and digital humanities adjacent practices) we saw this issue as an opportunity to expand the scholarly methods of our respective communities. The challenges that followed are a reflection of the difficulties facing this type of work at every step of the process, and a reminder of the extent to which traditional models of publication are deeply embedded in even the most interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary communities.

Given the goal of the issue to expand scholarly discourse and practice, we seek through this hypertext to expose these barriers and assumptions while making visible the realities of multimodal scholarly work. While journals such as Kairos have long established practices of hypertext-based work such as this one, integrating the same type of scholarship in other spaces as a typical part of scholarly discourse still seems like a distant (and perhaps improbable) goal due to a lack of a sustainable social and technological infrastructure for multimedia scholarship, as argued by Cheryl Ball in "Building a Scholarly Multimedia Publishing Infrastructure". Ball explained that too many open-access journals use content-management systems (CMS) that do not include editorial workflows, and that the lack of recognizing collaboration and technical skills in many fields means that journals rely too heavily upon one or two of their staff members.

Our choice of Digital Humanities Quarterly was very intentional: the discourse of critical making as used by Matt Ratto and Garnet Hertz refers to a wide variety of programmable interventions in design and object-work, and yet this development in the digital humanities has not fundamentally transformed scholarly publishing paradigms. One notable exception is Helen Burgess and David Rieder's Special Issue of Hyperrhiz on "Kits for Cultural History," but even this project was primarily communicated through image, text, and code. Furthermore, this project also enjoys the social infrastructure of technologists found in rhetoric and composition. DHQ, a hub of interdisciplinary and experimental DH scholarship, already possessed editorial guidelines open to more multimodal work; however, no issue yet had pressed the boundaries of those guidelines the way our proposal would.

THATCamp Beginnings

On June 14, 2012, Anastasia Salter posted a session proposal post she wrote on the THATCamp 2012 site, calling for a discussion focused on comics as a scholarly form: Comics "offer a starting point for experimenting with public, accessible scholarship that launches away from the confines of the traditional monograph. I propose a session for THATCamp brainstorming ideas for future forms of scholarship inspired by these types of experiments and comic books." Amanda Visconti seconded the proposal and commented: "I'm excited about the possibilities of mixing successes from existing visually-focused genres—games, comics, e-lit—to produce more dynamic and participatory written scholarship. In my own work, I think more about editions than about monographs, but I think the net effort is really the same: emphasizing the idea of literary 'engagements' as opposed to traditional archives/editions/monographs: online spaces of play, intervention, or visual/audio performance of knowledge. Active reading, monographs as starting points for discussion and experimentation instead of rich but static graveyards of knowledge" (June 14, 2016, accessed via The Wayback Machine). The session didn't make it onto the schedule, but it did attract a group of like-minded folks to form an impromptu comics gathering during one of the timeslots. After the conversation ended, Roger and Anastasia started writing a query letter to Digital Humanities Quarterly.

Scroll right for a screenshot of the original THATCamp post.

screenshot of Comic Books + Playing with Scholarship THATCamp Session Proposal

Query Letter to Digital Humanities Quarterly

Written by Anastasia and Roger at THATCamp, and sent the same day

While the coexistence of images and text towards a shared purpose is now an established part of our digital landscape, often in conjunction with animation, interaction and sound, scholarly forms are still dominated by the textual. But meaningful juxtapositions of media as sequential art offer an opportunity for scholarly reflection, as works such as Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland and Robert Berry's Ulysses Seen remind us. Often, the comic form is still associated with simplicity or beginners. Titles like McLuhan for Beginners suggest comics are only a tool for transitioning to "real" monographs. But of course, Marshall McLuhan himself used experimental forms in his scholarship—The Medium is the Massage has more in common with graphic novels than it does with his text-heavier volumes.

Taking the graphic novel as a scholarly text and transforming it into digital can make things even more interesting. The digital editions of graphic novels—including the CD version of Cartoon History of the Universe (with animations, billed as "interactive literature"), the many layers of Art Spiegelman's Meta Maus, and the work of Scott McCloud in his Understanding Comics trilogy—add another dimension to the form. Comic books evolving online are already texts of study for the digitally-minded humanities, but can they also offer inspiration for rethinking our own forms of communication? We seek a series of articles in the form of sequential art from a variety of critical and disciplinary perspectives that may address one or more of the following questions:

  • How can a problem in your field of humanities scholarship be addressed, re-contextualized or explored using the affordances of the comics form?
  • How can we use the comics form (as redefined and extended through interactive media) to reflect on our processes of scholarship?
  • How do you peer review visual media like comic panels?
  • What can the comic medium contribute to scholarly debates?
  • How does digital technology make comics scholarship easier to make?
  • How can scholars who aren't adept at illustration engage in comics scholarship?
  • How can we make comic writing more ubiquitous?
  • What forms of digital comics can be important for scholarship?

Questions and Answers from DHQ

After the initial query, the editors of DHQ responded quickly to Roger and Anastasia with a few questions, some of which centered on the challenges inherent in this type of issue. At this stage, the goal was to adapt the existing peer-review process to make sense for the types of works the issue would include, without asking authors to make something that would be difficult to publish elsewhere before they had assurances of a venue for publication. These slides (click the arrow or swipe right) show a few annotated quotes from the back and forth of the correspondence.

All correspondence is included with the permission of the participants and serves as an entry point to thinking through the logistics that follow enthusiasm. The greatest inital challenge to this type of project is balancing the needs of authors with the needs of the journal. At the time, we as editors rather naively imagined the peer-review process would be one of enthusiasm for scholars involved, as we hadn't yet grappled with the suspicion and questioning that comes as part of working through the unfamiliar.

Q&A from DHQ

1. Have you identified specific authors whom you plan to invite, or will you issue a call for proposals (or both)?

A. We have a few authors in mind, but we will also be issuing a general call for proposals.

At this stage, we hoped to recruit from among the initial scholars involved in the conversation at THATCamp, but beyond that we had a fairly limited sense of who might want to be involved in a project of this kind. Part of the difficulty, of course, was finding anyone who had already done this type of work: we ourselves as editors had talked about the potential of this type of project, but as relatively new tenure track scholars hadn't actually tried it ourselves.

2. We'd like to ask that the issue include an introduction explaining the rationale for the issue, connecting it to digital humanities themes and concerns, and providing an account of how the articles included are connected as a group.

A. An introduction is clearly essential.

One was eventually included in the issue providing an overview of the contents and situating the contributions. Writing the introduction proved even more important than we'd initially imagined, as it served as a framing for the special issue as a project of critical making.

Q&A from DHQ

3. Please note that all articles will need to go through the DHQ peer-review process, and we reserve the right to request substantial revisions or to decline any article if it either doesn't meet the journal's peer-review standards or if it seems out of scope for the journal. I should add that the latter very rarely happens—in many cases we will request revisions but we'd much rather help the author revise than decline an article, especially in a special issue.

A. Comics take an inordinately long amount of time to produce. A professional artist takes, on average, about 8 hours to produce a completed 9 panel page for a single issue. Most issues are 22 pages, so this is why comics are usually sold on a monthly basis. My sense is that it would be wrong to ask the scholars to produce completed comics if they have the possibility of rejection, since this is quite probably the only place they would be able to submit the piece. Our comics will probably not be 22 pages, but the time-consuming nature of the comics' production would be something to consider when determining what would be submitted for review. If possible, I'd like to ask them for a statement about the piece (an abstract that also includes a discussion of artistic style, number of panels, etc), a script (description of images, dialogue, narrative, etc.), a storyboard (quick, but not detailed sketches of the panels, images, etc).

Even as we wrote this response, we hadn't begun to comprehend the workflows and time-intensive processes of our prospective authors. While we'd tried to make the barriers to entry low, we hadn't yet truly grappled with the process, as neither editor (Roger and Anastasia) had actually made a comic of this type.

Q&A from DHQ

4. Finally, concerning formats and platforms—this will be an experimental issue for us, since we have not had very many interactive multimedia submissions. If, as proposals come in, you can let us know what kinds of technical requirements are being envisioned, we can discuss together how best to support them, and whether there are cases that may need special treatment (e.g. on a third-party server). Our tools of choice would be HTML(5)/Javascript/CSS (i.e. systems where the processing is done on the client side). I'm copying John Walsh, our technical editor (also with a strong scholarly interest in comics!) in case you have any questions or in case he has more to add.

A. For the technical side, I mostly anticipate client-side scripting approaches, but ultimately that will depend on the submissions. Our plan was to ask potential authors to include their technical requirements when they submit their abstracts.

Again, our easy answers reflect a lack of knowledge and assumptions of the modalities most authors would lean towards. This became more of a challenge later, when we understood the different approaches involved.

The Peer-Review Process

The peer reviews came back mixed, particularly in terms of the reviewers' discussion of the comics' visual and communicative potential. As the feedback was based only on the script, storyboard, and a single page, revisions would be less complicated to do than if authors had turned in completed projects. At the same time, reviewers were given little of the finished projects and had to envision what would be created.The wide variety of author approaches added to the difficulty, sending us as editors through a delicate process of editing and responding to make the revision suggestions viable and useful for our contributors.

An Email from Roger (November 2, 2013)

Hey Anastasia,

I have many different responses to the reviews. Most of the questions are useful, but I can't help but wonder if the concern about "substantial contribution" or "academic intervention" isn't (at least partly) motivated by an uneasiness or inexperience with comics as a scholarly genre. Sometimes it is indeed an issue, but other times I'm less sure. I feel in some way we might want to digest and help translate some of these concerns and determine which are worth asking our contributors to do, which are necessary for DHQ, and which we should resist.


Rather than choose which revisions authors should make, we decided to ask the authors their thoughts on how to approach revisions.

The Letters to Contributors

Dear Authors

Here is the first round feedback for "Comics as Scholarship." Our sincere apologies for the length of the review process. Digital Humanities Quarterly switched locations and so had difficulty sending out pieces to reviewers.

At this point, we'd like to give you a sense of where we will be proceeding. Please read carefully the comments from the reviewers. Our attachment of these comments does not necessarily include our endorsement of all of their suggestions. You might also find that some of the reviewers were not comfortable with using comics as a form of scholarship. We need a list of edits that you feel support your vision of the project. We are also planning on addressing some of the larger issues with contextualizing the benefit of using comics as a research medium in a textual introduction we will be writing for the issue.

Please send us your plan and thoughts about specific edits by mid-February. We will then send those to the editors at DHQ and go from there. After receiving a response from them, we will work on finalizing a deadline for final revisions. Please also let us know if you have any concerns at this point with the process.

A Sample Revision Process

While each author took a different approach driven by their choice of medium and personal methods, Jason Helms's process is exemplary of the type of iterative work that this mode of scholarship requires. By diving into his process, we get a better sense of the invisible labor that isn't conveyed in a finalized comic.

1. Feedback and Revision Planning

For Jason's article, the reviewers had three concerns. (1) Multiple reviewers expressed concern over whether or not the article's plan was feasible—literally whether or not such a thing could be made in a timely fashion. (2) Another reviewer wanted to see more of a direct connection to digital humanities as a field. (3) One reviewer wanted to see the article's contribution to comics scholarship more clearly stated.

Jason responded to each concern. Regarding feasibility, he assured the editors he had budgeted time for this work and pointed to past experience he had with similar scholarship. For the second concern, he added a short section connecting his arguments about comics to the field of digital humanities. Finally, he added a great deal of signposting to make his own scholarly interventions more visible.

A screenshot from Jason's completed comic, a page called Deleuze Plane that includes an image of Scott McCloud and a pitcher labeled Comics

2. Workflow

Having revised the script and storyboard, Jason began to create the finished project. Reflecting on the experience of making the sample page, Jason streamlined his workflow to keep things simple and consistent. His workflow can be boiled down to five steps: sketch, draw, scan, add interactivity, and package for web.

Working typically on one page at a time, Jason created a sketch of the page to play with placement of various objects and explore layout. Next he carefully drew the page with a pencil and inked over the pencil lines to clarify and differentiate line weights, erasing the pencil marks afterwards. Jason scanned the resulting drawing and optimized it in Adobe Illustrator. Then he placed the optimized file into Adobe Edge Animate and added interactivity. Finally, Jason packaged the animation file into a website using Adobe Muse.

3. Sketch

This sketch comprises two frames of the larger single-panel narrative that attempts to articulate Deleuze's idea of the concept using Scott McCloud as an example. Various examples of concepts from McCloud populate the background while McCloud is shown in the foreground constructing his concept of closure by drawing a two-panel strip. The view will move from being zoomed in on McCloud to zooming out to take in the entire sketch. Each view will have different text boxes that will be added in the interactivity section. With the sketch, Jason allowed himself a good bit of freedom, playing with layout, size, position, etc. without worrying too much about the quality of each individual drawing. Nonetheless, he tried to denote things like line weight and gestures. Notice, for example, the relatively rich detail of the pitcher (which Jason thought would contrast nicely with the undetailed elements in the background).

An early sketch for the Deleuze Plane image, with a larger pitcher and emoji face behind it
The inked and scanned version of the Deleuze Plane page

4. Pencil & Ink

For this polished drawing, Jason second-guessed himself and altered the layout fairly drastically. This was fairly common for him: the sketch is a chance to get rid of bad ideas. Jason realized he needed to leave some space for the text boxes that would appear in the final version, so he moved the triangle from the right side to the left. Jason also realized it would look cleaner if McCloud was drawing the panel border rather than the image itself.

After drawing it in pencil, Jason went back over each of the lines with ink of various weights (compare McCloud's outline with the pattern on his shirt, for example). This began to give the drawing some life and depth. Jason then erased all of the pencil marks and then inked again to fix any gaps that had been missed.

5. Scan and Optimize

Jason scanned the drawing as a high quality image (300 ppi) and then brought it into Adobe Illustrator to optimize. He ran a live trace on the image and played with the settings until the lines looked clean, erasing any errant artifacts (a few smudges had gotten through the live trace). If the image was going to be in color, Jason would have then imported it into Adobe Photoshop and painted it using a Wacom Tablet and various brush tools (this particular page did not require painting). The final image was then exported in a web-friendly format (.jpg here, but .png or .gif if using transparency) that maximized quality while minimizing size. This particular image was difficult because it changes size on the screen and needed to be able to be zoomed in on for greater detail. Because it needed to work at multiple levels of magnification, it was vital that the line weights created in the pencil and ink phase not get lost in the scanning phase.

The Deleuze Plane image, with thicker line weights after a Live Trace
A screenshot from Adobe Edge Animate, labeled with different elements, including a project panel and an interactivity panel

6. Add Interactivity

Jason brought the web-friendly file into Adobe Edge Animate and added interactivity: text boxes and the ability to zoom in and out using forward and backward arrows. Here you can see that this image was one of four that were included on this page--the other three being a painting by Rene Magritte, the "Chaos" image from the "Deleuze Plane" page, and a framing image of an art gallery with an exit door that brings readers to the conclusion page. In addition, the "Chaos" image and exit door would link to other pages. All of these images were places in relation to each other in the project panel (center).

The elements panel on the right shows all of the elements used for this one interactive page, including text, shapes, and images.

Some of the elements include interactivity, where javascript could be added. For example, the right arrow element moves the animation forward when clicked, zooming in, while the left moves it backward to zoom out.

The timeline at the bottom shows when various effects happen for different elements. Typically an element is changing position, size, and/or transparency. The length of the bar shows how long the animation takes. Along the top of the timeline you can see the various points that look like this: {●}. Each of these points stops the animation, asking the reader to use the interactive elements to move forward or backwards. A small bit of javascript was added to each to stop the animation.

Finally, the animation was exported as a .oam file that can be imported easily into various Adobe products.

7. Package for Web

The entire site was housed in Adobe Muse, a simple WYSIWYG web design program that enables designers to work without using code. Jason used it because of its ability to seamlessly incorporate Edge Animate files. The main drawback of Muse is the opacity of the code that it creates. Muse exports its files directly to HTML, but that HTML is nearly impenetrable because it renames many of the elements and functions as numbers (obfuscating Adobe's proprietary methods). This created some problems with integrating Jason's site into DHQ's viewer.

An unlabeled mid-process screenshot from the WYSIWYG editor Muse
Jason's project live on the DHQ website

8. Working with DHQ

Jason's article created its own very specific problems when placed within the larger DHQ viewer. First, the file structure created by Muse did not fit the file structure created by DHQ. After a good deal of work by Jason and DHQ's Technical Editor John Walsh, the convoluted file structure created by Muse was included. There were too many dependent files with relative links to make altering it feasible.

In addition, the DHQ navigation took up a great deal of the screen real estate, leaving Jason's piece slightly squished. He altered his files accordingly, but it still felt claustrophobic. A compromise was reached and the editors at DHQ allowed for the finished article to include a link that would open it in a new window.

Reception and Challenges

One of the greatest challenges we as editors (Roger and Anastasia) faced was the loss of contributors along the way, which decreased the diversity of the issue. The resulting issue's lack of diversity immediately attracted comment. With the permission of the contributors, we've reproduced here a Facebook conversation on this problem.

Discussion on Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Maggie Galvan: While this is an important issue that I will certainly be teaching and thinking alongside this semester and in the future, I am a bit disappointed by the lacking diversity of authorship. It strikes me in particular at the intersection of these fiekds, comics studies and DH, which struggle with but also actively think through diversity. [7 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 9:51am / Edited]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Roger Whitson: Diversity is an important issue w/all of these questions--and you're right that there needs to be more diverse voices in comics studies and the digital humanities. If you take a look at the introduction written by Anastasia Salter and myself, you'll see that the practical problems of simply creating a comic made it difficult for many editors and contributors to participate in the issue--or, if they did participate, they were forced to drop out at a certain point in the 3+ years it took to bring the issue to completion. It was really a marathon, and I (in particular) am happy that those who finished were able to do so. But you are correct, we'd love to see future projects in comics as scholarship address the issue of diversity more comprehensively than we were able to. [4 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:19am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Anastasia Salter: I agree with you completely, and we actively sought out diverse contributors when pushing the initial call: unfortunately, several contributors were forced to drop out, and I believe that privilege and experience played a role in which voices would take on a project like this one and have the flexibility to stick with it through a multiyear process. It's something I'd like to work on in a future project where more mentorshop [sic] is provided by editors throughout to bring new voices to multimodal scholarship. [4 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:22am]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Roger Whitson: I like what Anastasia said about mentorship, b/c new forms of collaboration would probably be required if this form were to gain any kind of prominence in the academy – w/different workers of varying degrees of privilege. We really had to rethink the editorial process itself due to the huge amount of work required to create sequential art. We document that as well in the introduction, but it meant that not everyone had the time or really wanted to invest the time required to make a comic vs. simply writing an article. [3 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:25am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Amanda Licastro: We deal with this Journal of interactive Technology and Pedagogy [sic] constantly, and as a contributor to Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, Pedagogy I know they do as well. Mentorship is key. Multimodal scholarship takes a lot more time, effort, and a diverse skill set. I believe co-authorship is one way to achieve this goal, but the humanities often doesn't recognize this as valid. I think Maggie Galvan makes an excellent point though--the TOC of your DHQ issue is homogeneous, and I know you both strive for diversity in your scholarship, so I was curious as to how this came about. Thanks for responding. [5 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:31am]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Roger Whitson: That's a great point about JiTP and Kairos. It's also an infrastructural point. There's very little editorial theory that we could have appealed to in DH as models. I did know a bit about how infrastructure in comics companies influences productivity – but, again, these infrastructures haven't been known to embrace diversity in progressive ways. [January 25, 2016 at 10:33am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Maggie Galvan: Roger Whitson & Anastasia Salter, thank you for your thoughtful replies here and for your hard work in putting together this journal issue. I know that a number of pieces will be key in my scholarship going forward.

And I agree that mentorship through editing is key and tough – it reminds me of how Barbara Smith, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga discuss their editing and mentorship process in their introductions to anthologies they edited like Home Girls and This Bridge Called My Back. [3 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:35am / Edited]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Anastasia Salter: As a contributor to Kairos I've definitely seen that as well. The challenges we saw in editing this issue inspired me in part to include a multimodal scholarly project in a co-taught course for our doctoral students in Text & Technology right now: my hope is to introduce the tools and skills ealrier in an environment where I can provide that type of mentorship easily. [6 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:35am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Roger Whitson: BTW, I think this also goes to Cheryl E. Ball and Doug Eyman's point that scholarly multimedia and the requirements of such work in the digital humanities is, if not non-existent, definitely in its infancy with regards to editorial theory. [3 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:37am]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Anastasia Salter: Maggie I'm glad to hear that: we're very happy with the amazing pieces we got to include, but I agree it is essential to work for supporting more diversity in projects like this in the future. I'm actually plotting a MLA17 call with Jason Helms that might point towards that direction. [4 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:38am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Anastasia Salter: (Also, if you happen to read the preface to my Kairos piece Alice in Dataland, I recommend pairing it with this Anvil Academic post on "The New Digital Divide": http://anvilacademic.org/the-new-digital-divide/ for some more insight into the challenges facing multimodal scholarship...) [image showing link preview of "The New Digital Divide"] [4 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:40am]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Amanda Licastro: Anastasia Salter I am actually teaching your Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, Pedagogy piece in my Intro to Digital Publishing cousre this term! It is an excellent example of the future of multimodal scholarship, and I can't wait to see how my students respond. I will add the link you reference to the syllabus. Also: FWIW, the final project in all of my courses is a multimodal, collaborative, research-based experiment for the same resons you mention above. [3 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:52am]

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Anastasia Salter: Thanks Amanda, hope it goes well! Let me know if you'd be interested in my skyping in for a bit to chat with them if timing works. This is actually my first time teaching a course in a traditional PhD program, I used to teach in graduate programs that were more tech-focused so digital projects were the norm. Will be interesting to see how it goes with a different student group. [2 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 10:56am]

Editorial Challenges

A screenshot from a Facebook conversation about a lack of diversity among authors in this issue

Cheryl E. Ball: (Totally using this thread in my tenure case this fall. ;) Editorial work counts as scholarship at WVU, but I'd do it regardless because it is based in the inherently mentoring ethos of writing studies. Kairos is just one vehicle. JITP and others are great models as well. But editorial theory for mm work lies outside the bounds of DH itself. Bringing as many voices into the fold requires patience, agility, forethought, and kindness amidst rigor, and is crucial to diversifying our scholarly thought (and i am sure we can all agree to that, no matter what field we are in! :) [5 Likes / January 25, 2016 at 11:59am]


In this webtext, we've drawn together the thoughts, annotations, and experiences of editors and authors. For our final thoughts, we end with individual reflections on the impact of this type of scholarship and process: a postmortem of a journey that lasted a few more years than originally anticipated. Collectively, we hope that these reflections provide a starting point for those contemplating similar work—as well as those of us engaged in the editing, review, evaluation, and processing of multimodal and experimental forms of scholarship.

Ultimately, we see this webtext as a way to reveal the invisible labor and process behind work that might otherwise not be seen. We believe comics offer us a way of seeing and thinking about our scholarship, but that way of seeing is as much about the process as the results.


I worked on "Comics as Scholarship" through my transition from graduate student into tenure-track professor. I knew while I was working on it that it would never hold the same value in my portfolio as other projects representing similar levels of work.

The authors who persevered through the challenges of the peer-review process are also those represented in that issue. However, we lost a number of authors before that point, and a disproportionate number of those who bowed out of the project were members of groups traditionally marginalized within academia. This isn't surprising: The process was filled with frustrations and challenges for authors, editors, and peer reviewers. These frustrations were primarily anchored in challenges of communication, as mostly inexperienced comic authors tried to convey their vision to peer reviewers who themselves had mostly never attempted any similar type of work themselves. Outside of a few venues (such as Kairos itself), processes for reviewing and editing alternative forms of scholarship are not well established or supported.

The final results of the "Comics as Scholarship" issue are offered as a starting point for a larger conversation, not only on the value of comics as a form for conveying scholarly concepts, but also on the challenge of making space in the academic process for creative and experimental work by those who might lack the institutional support structures to take such risks.


As the argument of my article in DHQ was about the ways that arguments can bridge visual, verbal, and other modes, it was important to me that the project perform the theories it presented. This is undoubtedly more work than simply relying on written text, but it also created a much more compelling argument.

I also used this article to test the methods I had planned for a digital monograph, Rhizcomics: Rhetoric, Technology, and New Media Composition, which I discuss elsewhere in this issue. The DHQ project taught me a great deal about my own methods and allowed me to streamline my process and create the digital monograph much more quickly and efficiently. It also helped me to think more deeply about the relationship between visual and verbal elements as I wrote the script for Rhizcomics.

When considering critical making as scholarship, the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed methods need to be considered very carefully. This kind of work will take more time, but the results can also be richer and more persuasive. Whatever medium you choose, make certain that the methods fit your own voice and arguments. Critical making cannot be a one-size-fits-all endeavor any more than traditional textual scholarship ever has been.


I started editing "Comics as Scholarship" while experiencing a crossroads in my own scholarly career. Coming from a background in literary and media studies, my advisors always encouraged me to sideline more experimental projects while foregrounding written research about literature. I got the same advice to minimize digital scholarship when starting a job as an assistant professor of English at Washington State University, despite being hired partly due to my work encouraging faculty to create digital projects at Emory University's Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS).

I learned to read by reading comics. My interest in literature emerged when encountering Neil Gaiman's references to John Milton's Paradise Lost in the comic, The Sandman. I sense my story isn't very different from that of many people teaching literature at universities across the country. Some of my favorite moments as a graduate student came from talking through the fine points of Lacanian psychoanalysis using sequences from Donald Duck comics, while the most valuable moments of my teaching career involved workshopping comic sequences written by my students. Even so, "Comics as Scholarship" remains only a small part of a much wider tenure portfolio that is still made up of primarily written scholarship about the digital humanities.

While many fields encourage the production of digital archives, webtexts, and video essays, my experience editing the "Comics as Scholarship" issue underscored how little mentoring exists for scholars looking to work in modalities other than the traditional article. Many of the editorial decisions I made with Anastasia felt like we were inventing new rules, while I also noticed that we largely failed to keep diverse authors for our project. Those of us in privileged positions still have a lot of work to do to create the supportive institutional environment where a wider variety of scholars can create scholarly multimedia.